As the only restaurant in a huge radius east of Kalispell, Blaine Creek Grill feeds a hungry agricultural population plus a growing clientele from all corners of the area
Story by Myers Reece | Photography by Hunter D’Antuono
Cody Siderius was plowing snow in the parking lot of Blaine Creek Grill over the winter when a last-minute personnel shakeup occurred right before the restaurant opened for dinner. He dropped his plowing duties and waded into the deeply unfamiliar role of managing an eatery for an evening.
That evening turned into a week, then a few weeks, and four months later Siderius is still running the show. He left his job with the family business, Siderius Construction, to be the full-time manager of Blaine Creek Grill, which is owned by his father, Doug, and located in the old Frontier Roadhouse building at the intersection of Highways 206 and 35.
There are lot of people, including numerous regulars from the surrounding agricultural community, who are thrilled that Siderius stuck with the role despite its high surprise factor and steep learning curve.
“I’m out of my element,” he said, modestly but truthfully. “I’m here to pay the bills, greet people and help everybody with anything they need. I’ve done dishes. I cut the grass.”
The 33-year-old Siderius, who spent the bulk of his previous years in either the military or working construction, is hitting his stride managing a grill that has become something of a lifeblood for a large restaurant-less swath of the valley. It’s the only eatery, not counting places like nearby Woody’s Country Store and the Silver Bullet Bar and Casino for which food is a secondary offering, within a huge radius between Bigfork to the south, Columbia Falls to the north, and Evergreen to the west. Siderius praised Tina Engebritson, the former manager, for her role in getting the restaurant established.
Like many places in the region, summer brings tourists and a bump in clientele, but Siderius said it’s local enthusiasm that not only keeps the restaurant afloat but is prompting it to grow. Blaine Creek Grill has added lunch to its repertoire this summer, and back in May, before the midday dining became available, area farmers and ranchers were champing at the bit.
“They’re awesome,” Siderius said of his local devotees. “They’re all out there planting and working right now, and they’re like, ‘When are you going to open for lunch?’”
“All the ag people come in,” he added. “The Creston people, everyone around here, they’re what keep us going.”
Now that the restaurant is open for lunch, it can showcase the delicacies of chef and kitchen manager Tom Sawyer during the day and in the evening. Sawyer, who has spent a lifetime dealing with Huckleberry Finn-related references, has spent nearly as long in the culinary business, honing his chef skills over three decades in restaurants from Maine to Seattle and most recently at the Bigfork Inn.
Sawyer says he’s found a home at Blaine Creek Grill, with a hungry and grateful second family that pours in daily from the valley’s fertile croplands.
“The community is awesome,” Sawyer said. “It’s great to have their support.”
Having secured a highly experienced chef who shares the family’s vision for the restaurant, Siderius says he’s holding onto Sawyer as tightly as possible.
“We’re keeping him and nobody else can have him,” he said with a laugh. “He really does put in a tremendous amount of effort. Even though it’s not his restaurant, it’s very personal to him.”
To be sure, it’s not only immediate locals who frequent Blaine Creek Grill. The restaurant has regulars from Whitefish and Ronan, and everywhere in between, while passersby drop in often, too. Dishes like mouth-watering ribs, smoked in house, tend to attract a wide variety of patrons. And the strongest magnet of all appears to be the weekly Thursday prime rib night.
“It’s packed in here,” Siderius said. “We always try to make enough that we don’t run out, but one time we had eight whole prime ribs and still ran out.”
The menu is unpretentious and compact, with Sawyer making sure every item on it is perfected, rather than throwing out dozens of options. Everything is made fresh to order.
Highlighting the menu are burgers, flatbreads, salads and hearty proteins, including steaks, pork chops, smoked chicken and fresh salmon fillets. The restaurant also has a liquor license with a fully stocked bar, as well as a beer and wine list.
The ambience is welcoming, too, with an outdoor deck that offers views stretching to Glacier National Park, the Mission Mountains and the Swan Range. The venue can be rented out for events, including wedding parties and class reunions.
The location originally opened in the late 1990s as a nine-hole golf course with a humble clubhouse to feed and satiate golfers. It evolved over the years into more of a true restaurant, while the short golf course remained a draw. But after Frontier Roadhouse closed in 2016, the building sat vacant and the course untouched until Doug Siderius purchased it the next year, a period of dormancy that threw off the pH levels of the grass, which must be meticulously managed on the greens.
While the pH levels haven’t been returned to their ideal state, Siderius mows and cares for the course, offering a Rocky Mountain golf experience with plenty of fun if not quite putting perfection. Fair-Mont-Egan School, where Siderius’ wife Anna works, holds a summer golf program there.
The Siderius clan is a well-known and influential family with deep multi-generational roots in the Flathead Valley. A lot of them also happen to live and work the land nearby, meaning the idea of clientele being family is often literal.
“Everyone in the family, we all like having our own place,” Siderius said.